Real Women Don’t Get Sick

(Originally appeared in The Beach Reporter on 1/12/90)

It starts with that achy feeling. Your throat is a little scratchy and the place behind your eyeballs starts to burn. By the time you’re cooking dinner, even your hair and fingernails hurt. You just want to lie down for about twelve years.

You lie down on the couch with a pillow over your head because the light hurts, while everyone eats dinner and ignores you. You wish someone would offer to make you some chicken soup.

You take a long moment to feel sorry for yourself. When your spouse is sick, he can call in sick. When you are a mom, even a mom who works outside the home, you can’t call in sick. Who ya gonna call? “Hi. Not feeling well. Can someone cover for me today? I’ve got carpool this morning, a dentist appointment for one kid, ballet for the other, a meeting at school, a deadline to meet for my job, and I promised I’d make two dozen heart-shaped cookies for my daughter’s class tomorrow. Oh, I’m also supposed to pick up the dry cleaning, the library books are due, and we’re out of milk, bread, and cat food.” Click.
These are the times that try women’s souls. In an average family of four, when a cold or flu strikes it doesn’t hit everyone at once. Instead, it lingers on for a good month. First one kid brings it home. Then the next kid gets it. So that’s a week for each kid.

And, of course they have been coughing into your mouth and giving you slobbery kisses that you can’t turn down. So you’re next.

Somehow you have all survived – the carpools got driven, the cookies got made. But the worst is yet to come. Your spouse will be the last one to succumb, and by the time he has sneezed his last sneeze, you will find yourself at brief times wondering what perverse quirk of fate threw the two of you together.

For you see, as all women know the world over, when a man is sick, he is SICK. They moan and gargle and sneeze these gigantic sneezes that remind you of the last earthquake, and give you a running commentary on every symptom.

They ask, in a raspy voice that is really more of a death rattle, if you could please – if it isn’t too much trouble – make that homemade chicken soup like his mother used to make. But, if you can’t that’s okay, they’ll just look at you with sad eyes and say they will settle for Campbell’s Chicken Noodle-O’s. But could you maybe just warm it up for them and bring it into the bedroom with some Saltines. Oh, and if it’s not too much trouble, could you bring in the newspaper and turn on the television? Rasp, rasp.

After three days of listening to phlegm being coughed up from their innards, and retrieving tissues from their nightstand, you have had enough. Even the kids were easier than this. So the next time they croak out a request, you say, “Remember when we saw War of the Roses last week?” And then you glare and hiss. That usually does the trick. Sure, they may look hurt for a little while, but it’s worth it. You can’t let a man get too comfortable in his suffering.

I keep threatening that next time I get sick, I will just refuse to get out of bed, and see what happens. Every other mom I know has shared this same fantasy. Don’t tell anyone, but I have a feeling none of us are ever going to do it.

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